‘Spirit of Oklahoma’ Returns Home After 1,700 Mile Trip

Derrick James

McAlester News-Capital, Okla.

(MCT)

Jul. 8—A historic firetruck with ties to Oklahoma and New York City made its way Wednesday through Pittsburg County on its 1,700 mile journey to southern Oklahoma.

The Spirit of Oklahoma is a retired Fire Department of the City of New York rescue truck that was purchased to be restored with the help of donors by the Calera, Oklahoma Fire Department.

The truck was delivered Wednesday to the southern Oklahoma fire department just south of Durant following a 1,700 mile journey from Massachusetts.

On its trip down U.S. Highway 69, The Spirit of Oklahoma was escorted by numerous fire and police departments in Oklahoma, including several Pittsburg County fire and police departments.

A GoFundMe page set up by Calera firefighters Brian Norton and Jake Trujillo details the history of the truck and the efforts made to bring the truck back to Oklahoma.

According to the page, the story began during the deployment of New York Task Force 1 to the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

The team assisted with search and rescue efforts for 14 days before returning home.

Ten members of NYTF-1 who responded to Oklahoma City were killed in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in New York City.

Two of the five rescue trucks used by the FDNY were destroyed in the collapse of the twin towers, with a third being heavily damaged.

According to the GoFundMe, a Fort Gibson Elementary School teacher in 2002 felt a calling to help FDNY recover from the 9/11 disaster and started a campaign dubbed “The Spirit of Oklahoma Challenge.”

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The challenge called out to all school students in the state to donate $1 to help buy FDNY a new rescue unit, with the campaign lasting 18 days and a total of $386,000 raised by students. Private funding raised the grand total to more than $450,000.

The money was used to buy a 2002 American LaFrance Freightliner Heavy Spec Rescue Unit that was named “The Spirit of Oklahoma.”

Inscribed on both sides of the rescue truck, along with “We Will Never Forget,” are the names of the 10 members of NYTF-1 killed on Sept. 11:

Special Operations Chief Raymond M. Downey, FDNY; Battalion Chief John J. Fanning, FDNY; Captain Terence S. Hatton, FDNY; Lieutenant Kevin C. Dowdell, FDNY; Lieutenant Michael A. Esposito, FDNY; Lieutenant Peter C. Martin, FDNY; Firefighter William D. Lake, FDNY; Detective Claude D. Richards, New York Police Department; Sergeant Michael S. Curtin, NYPD; and Police Officer Thomas M. Langone, NYPD.

Also inscribed on the sides of the truck: “The Spirit of Oklahoma” and the words “As in Oklahoma, the strength of your people will not be measured in your buildings, but instead, in your hearts. For therein lies the spirit that defines your character.”Because of the senseless acts of terrorism on 4-19-95 and 9-11-01, a bond between our people has forever been forged. May we find strength from one another always.

“Oklahomans are steadfast in our support of the FDNY. As this life saving memorial to the 343 heroes who perished on 9-11-01 is used on the streets of New York City, we join with all New Yorkers as you proclaim to the world, ‘Our Spirit will never be Broken.”‘

According to the GoFundMe page, the truck served 18 years as a reserve unit to “come to the rescue” and fill in for a rescue unit that was down for repair or maintenance before being retired in 2019 and sent to a surplus auction.

A Massachusetts man won the auction for the truck and didn’t realize what he had bought until it was delivered to his house.

“He had bought the truck because of its specifications and had plans to turn it into a car hauler,” the GoFundMe states. “It wasn’t until the tow truck dropped it off in his front yard that he had the chance to read what was written on the side. His plans of tearing it apart were no longer an option.”

The story states the man made phone calls and wrote emails with no response, so he placed the truck for sale on Facebook in hopes of finding a buyer that could restore it and place it in a museum, preferably in Oklahoma.

That is when Chief Brian Norton and Lt. Jake Trujillo of Calera Fire-Rescue decided they wanted to take on the task of purchasing and restoring the truck with the Massachusetts man giving the firefighters 14 days to fundraise the $15,000 required to purchase it.

The GoFundMe page was started with the page shared more than 1,700 times on social media with the set goal to raise $25,000 — $15,000 for the truck and $10,000 for the transportation, travel, and initial restoration expenses.

According to the page, the original goal was reached on June 17, with the new goal raised to $50,000 to help with restoration costs.

After the truck is restored, the Spirit of Oklahoma will be housed at the Tulsa Fire Museum.

To donate, visit www.gofund.me/4457b7e7 and follow the restoration on Facebook by searching “Restoring the Spirit of Oklahoma.”

Contact Derrick James at djames@mcalesternews.com

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